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In an 8-week period in late 1997, an assessment of the situation of drug use and HIV vulnerability in east and south-east Asia was carried out for the United Nations Joint Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS). It served to assist UNAIDS' Asia-Pacific team in setting priorities for action at a regional level, it having been realised that epidemics of HIV among injecting drug users (IDUs) were playing an important role in the development of the AIDS epidemic in Asia at both country and regional levels. Though essentially a desk exercise, contact with the extensive membership of the Asian Harm Reduction Network allowed a deeper and more efficient investigation than would otherwise have been possible, with access to key informants and ‘grey’ literature. The assessment found a situation of massive epidemics of HIV among IDUs either occurring, or about to occur, in most Asian countries; and parlous or non-existent public health responses to these problems in a context void of policy. As well as providing evidence to guide UNAIDS, and useful for advocacy by a wide range of people, the process of the situation assessment also generated interest and in some cases activity on the part of many individuals and institutions throughout the region. It is hoped that this will be the beginning of an ongoing monitoring of the situation.